2021-22 Preview: The Flames Defence
As we get ready for the 2021-22 season, we thought we’d break down the Flames by their positions: the forwards, the defence and goaltending. Today we’re taking a look at the Flames blueline to see if there’s a chance for any improvement and what awaits the Flames as they gear up for another season.
Here’s a look at the Flames defensive stats from last season before we get into the nitty gritty of who’s come and gone and what the Flames need to do to be better on the blue line this season.
|Goals Allowed||Shots Allowed||PPGA||PPOA||PK%|
|34 (12th)||172 (9th)||80.23% (15th)|
|Mark Giordano (SEA)||56||9||17||110||51||41||21|
|Nikita Nesterov (CSKA)||38||0||4||29||41||25||7|
|Nikita Zadorov (CHI)||55||1||7||74||190||41||16|
|Erik Gudbranson (OTT/NSH)||45||1||3||64||111||33||6|
Well, on the surface this looks bad. Like real bad. Calgary lost their long time Captain, Mark Giordano, to the Seattle Kraken in the NHL Expansion Draft this offseason. That was the worst kept secret in all of hockey. Everyone knew the Flames and Giordano were heading for a split, so people were upset, but it was time for both parties to move on. Nikita Nesterov heading home to Russia was a good move for him and the Flames, so no harm, no foul there.
What the Flames “replaced” those two with was not good at all. Through one preseason with Calgary both Erik Gudbranson and Nikita Zadorov have lived up to their past performance and stats: terrible. Erik Gudbranson was prone to turning the puck over when he was on the ice, which is a shocker for a player with a career 113 giveaways in 563 games (33 is a career high and he’s accomplished that three times in his career). Zadorov challenged a Calgary media member in a press conference, earned the fans respect and then took dumb penalty after dumb penalty when he was on the ice. I know, again, shocking for a player with 419 PIM in 411 career games. So if you are scoring at home, the imports are FAR worse than the exports. But these are “Darryl Sutter Guys.” Guys who are tough and make dumb mistakes that lead to goals for the opposition. Wonderful.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about the bright spots on the Flames defence: Chris Tanev, Noah Hanifin, Rasmus Andersson and Oliver Kylington. Tanev seemed like he was ascending to be the leader of the Flames defence last season and he was solid this preseason as well. He was instrumental in getting Noah Hanifin to start heading to that next level. Tanev’s offence was about where it should be over a shortened season (12 points in 56 games), but he took a career low 6 PIM and had his second best ATOI with 21:44 in his first season with the Flames. Chris Tanev added a steadying presence on the ice and his leadership could have him in the running for an “A” this season.
Noah Hanifin will be the other anchor of this Flames defence. When he was traded for he was known for underachieving and not having reached his potential, but last season Hanifin gave everyone a good look at what’s to come and it was good. His points were, like Tanev, on track for a quality season, despite it being shortened. Hanifin played in only 47 games, but had 15 points, only 18 PIM and a solid 20:01 ATOI. Between Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin the Flames have two very good defencemen that they can pair together or spread out to cover some defensive liabilities.
That leaves us with a threesome of young players in Rasmus Andersson, Oliver Kylington and Juuso Valimaki. Kylington, by far, had the best preseason of any of those three and it’s looking like he’s finally earned a spot as a regular on the blueline. Kylington, for some reason, has never been given a fair shake with the Flames (playing in 95 games over 4 seasons), but his play over the last three weeks has made Darryl Sutter take notice and he may have surpassed Juuso Valimaki on the depth chart.
Valimaki really struggled last season and this preseason after coming back from injury. There were high hopes for the Finnish defenceman, but it never seemed to click in 2021. He saw action in 49 games, collecting 11 points, but it was his lack of ice time that was concerning. Valimaki averaged 15:26 minutes last year, that was 7th best among Flames defenders, behind Michael Stone and Nikita Nesterov and only ahead of Connor Mackey and Oliver Kylington. That’s not good. It’s time for Valimaki to really show the Flames what he can do because their are young players in the minors that are starting to show potential.
As for Ramus Andersson, he was another player that had a year that wasn’t as impressive as everyone had hoped for. Andersson logged a very respectable 21:13 ATOI, which was good for the 3rd highest amount for a Flames defenceman, but it just seemed like he wasn’t effective a lot of the time. Andersson needs to shoot the puck more because he has a cannon and has proven to be effective when he puts the puck on net. He logged the second most shots by a Calgary defender with 96, but that was still 46 less than Mark Giordano’s 142. His point totals will surely rise if starts to shoot the puck more.
Lastly there’s Michael Stone. It feels like Stone has been a member of the Flames forever and that’s because he’s entering his 6th campaign with the Flames. Over that time he’s played in 132 games and collected 32 points, spending more time in the press box as a healthy scratch or being injured. Stone is an average “piece” on a team, but not exactly someone you want to rely on in one of your top pairings. But this is the Flames, so be prepared.
- Chris Tanev - Noah Hanifin
- Rasmus Andersson - Michael Stone
- Oliver Kylington - Valimaki/Gudbranson/Zadorov
Look, I don’t like that third pairing either, but is Kylington ready to make that jump? I think he needs a few games under his belt and if he’s crushing it, the Flames should absolutely move him up with Andersson or whoever they decide to pair on that second line. What scares me most is Gudbranson and Zadorov taking minutes from Kylington and Valimaki. Those two plugs are very much Sutter type players and from what we’ve seen in the preseason he’s not afraid to toss them out there and the results have been predictable. So with that in mind, here’s what the Flames pairings will most likely look like:
- Noah Hanifin-Rasmus Andersson
- Chris Tanev-Nikita Zadorov/Michael Stone
- Oliver Kylington/Juuso Valimaki-Erik Gudbranson
The Flames will need to put their best six defenders on the ice every night as they will have to deal with Edmonton’s fire power, a strong Seattle squad and a Vegas team that they can’t seem to figure out. The Kings can also be a tough out and now that Vancouver has their young guns back under contract it won’t be a cake walk this season. It will certainly be a little “easier” not having to play Edmonton, Toronto and Winnipeg a combined 28 times, but it’s still going to be tough.
Noah Hanifin, Oliver Kylington, Chris Tanev, Rasmus Andersson, Nikita Zadorov, Michael Stone, Erik Gudbranson, Juuso Valimaki
Is the Flames defence better this season?